In 2003, I sat in my eighth grade sexual education class, listening to my teacher explain to us that abstinence was the only way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. As one could predict, later that year one of my classmates, despite having looked terrified during the discussion of STIs, became pregnant at the age of 14.
Seven years later I spent my summer working in Zanzibar, Tanzania with young women in high school. We hosted a health seminar where medical students taught these young women about breast cancer, HIV/AIDS, and sexual health. After the medical students had discussed different forms of birth control, one student asked about the effectiveness of tracking your ovulation: attempting to understand your menstrual cycle and not have sex on days when you are most fertile. This technique, in fact, had been taught to these young women in school as the best form of birth control.
While our upbringings had differed quite a bit, one aspect that I found consistent between my life and the lives of these Zanzibari high school students was our lack of comprehensive sexual health education, an education where more than one option was presented.
With the imminence of the world population reaching 7 billion, I find it remarkable that schools throughout the world continue to teach their students only partial information or none at all concerning sex. This refusal to provide women with the basic information that they need to have healthy sex lives and to control when, if and how they become pregnant, is both caused by sexism and perpetuates it. All I ask is that schools provide their young women and men with honest information so that they may have the dignity and bodily autonomy that they deserve; only then will the population growth slow to sustainable levels.